** update 29/12/2012 : I have been contacted by the subject of this article, who understandably was not enamoured with this story. He wanted me to take it down, or remove his identity. Anyone who has read this story would imagine that my response would be Get Bent….however, he DID ask around Christmas and I’ve a soft-spot for doing favours at this time of year. The article has been updated to obscure the subject’s identity.
I am a frustrated, shallow, shrivelled man of thwarted ambitions, and my greatest feat of creativity has been the internal monologue of victimisation that allows me to justify having enormous chips on both my shoulders. Naturally it follows that the only way I can make myself feel good is by stomping on others. So it goes that today I am taking great pleasure in smearing someone else’s reputation other than my own…a man who made the ghastly mistake of offering me help :
Behold, the World’s Worst Roadie…henceforth known as WWR.
‘Man’ might be pushing it too far. The dude was a child. We first crossed paths when Berzerker was looking for a drummer for a UK tour. Which tour and which year, I can’t remember. They’ve all blurred into one noisy, cold, miserable experience. I was living in Bournemouth, England at the time and a friend mentioned that he knew a kid who could drum pretty fast. He gave me WWR’S details and seeing as though WWR was going to university in Bournemouth, I immediately caught up with him and checked him out.
As promised, he could drum pretty fast. I was impressed. Berzerker material is a whole other level of insane though, so I gave him three songs and asked him to learn them and show me his progress a week later. A week went by, and I didn’t hear from him. Then two weeks. Then three. The start of tour was only a few months away and no drummer had been finalised, so I wasn’t particularly enjoying the uncertainty. Then I got a text from WWR saying the following:
“I think it’s time I said what’s on my mind, I don’t think I can do the tour and learn the material. Let me know if you can’t find anyone else though and I’ll see if I can help”
I scratched my head over the message once or twice, showed it to Luke, laughed, then quickly forgot about it. We eventually decided on using David Gray again seeing as though he’d toured with us before and already knew the set. Additionally he and Matt (long-time Berzerker guitarist) both played in Akercocke together and so we kind of got a “package grind-unit” out of the two of them, and they could rehearse the set together outside of our once-weekly Berzerker rehearsals at Dave’s studio in Hounslow.
So I forgot about WWR until I got another message a few weeks out from tour. He contacted me out of the blue and wondered if I knew of any work going around Bournemouth as uni had finished for the year and he had time to kill. I asked if he wanted to come and roadie for us on the UK tour – we couldn’t pay him, but we could offer him a place to sleep and meals each day. He said yes.
A lot of people would read the above paragraph and think what kind of tightarses are you? You want a roadie but you won’t pay for him? What kind of a deal is that? So let me explain. We had two bands buy-on to this tour. They were Nekkrosis from the UK and Miksha from Norway. When a band buys-on to a tour, they or their label pay us one or two thousand pounds to ensure their band is supporting the headliner for the entire tour. There are numerous benefits to this, the obvious being that they have an audience to try and win over each night that is larger than if they were playing by themselves. Their press kit then gets to throw in “supported Berzerker around the UK” and there’ll usually be a line or two about their show in all the reviews and mentions of the tour.
There are additional benefits above and beyond those mentioned. When you’re a buy-on band, this is what you do: you impress everyone on tour, you meet promoters and try and set up gigs, you meet club owners and try and set up gigs, you meet booking agents and try and set up tours of your own or festival appearances. You meet the press, win them over, get emails and phone numbers, you push for interviews, reviews, and features. You meet labels, buy them a drink, angle either for a deal now or down the track, or to work with one of their bands. You meet managers, and see if they’ll manage you. You meet all the fanzines and blog writers who are out there to cover the main band, shake some hands, and win them over to your cause. And you thought tours were just tits and jagermeister.
I see these additional benefits as the ones which really count. The object of any band is to get straight from a money-losing status (the support band) to a money-making status (the headline band) as soon as possible. If you have a firm handshake and the ability to make friends then all you need is to buy on to one of these tours and off you go.
WWR played in a couple of bands, and I’d heard he had just replaced the drummer for UK death metallers Corpsing. He was coming onto tour in exchange for a couple of hours work each night. Nekkrosis and Miksha had paid over a thousand pounds for those additional benefits I mentioned above. He was getting them for free. I made that clear to him pre-tour and he was excited. As I say, it’s an opportunity. Go on tour as a roadie for two weeks with a backpack full of press packs and promo, and fucking well go for it if you have the band’s blessing. At the end of those two weeks you can now do your own national tour and have reasonable coverage for it and maybe even reach the Holy Grail – get paid for it. That was the idea anyway.
Berzerker normally doesn’t use roadies and I would not have invited WWR onboard to do anything, but he was actually getting me out of a fix. Dave and Matt, as well as asking for performance fees, were demanding a roadie for the tour. It was a reasonable demand, they’re professional musicians and they have roadies for Akercocke. It’s one of the first things most bands get before they’re even signed, a roadie to make sure their gig goes as well as possible and all onstage fuck-ups are unfucked as quick as possible. But as I said, we weren’t a normal band. We were complete bastards and didn’t trust anyone, even each other. I think our one lone previous experience of using a roadie ended up with our mixer and sampler getting exploded in Canberra. Luke was loath to let anyone near our equipment since then. Sometimes we were so tightarse we didn’t even hire a soundman. Luke would stand up near the mixing desk for the first song with a remote mic, get the mix as good as possible, and do the rest of the show from the stage. We never used roadies.
I asked Dave and Matt how much their Akercocke roadies charged and I think it may have been something like 50-70 pounds for a show? I forget the exact number but Luke and I were like, fuck that. We could hire another musician for that amount of money. So we said we’d get back to them and figure something out. But as it got closer to tour Dave and Matt both really got on my case about it. This wasn’t a problem for Luke because he was back in Australia, but I was in England rehearsing with the guys and had to hear their complaints in person. Dave especially is a hard person to say ‘no’ to.
I must explain Dave Gray from Akercocke. To me, the man is evidence that droit du seigneur is alive and well in England. You could surmise from his bearing that he is the love child of a royal tryst and Christopher Lee. The fella is proper and friendly and reliable, but you always have the feeling that one step wrong and you’ll be sent to the Tower of London to think shit through. I remember before our first tour together we had worked out his performance per show fee, then totted that up into a total for the tour. A week or two out from tour a couple of shows were dropped, so I tried to adjust his total tour fee down accordingly. Dave laughed in contempt at my attempted negotiation and in a My-Will-Be-Done voice simply said “NO“. You know how in some novels, a minor character is revealed to be a descendant of the King, and he suddenly speaks with the righteousness of a major dynastical line that resonates with a thousand years of ruling? Yeah, that. Just a simple controlled “No” but it actually had me waking up in cold sweats for a few years.
“Sorry I’m a bit tired today…had that dream where Dave said ‘No’ to me ”
Other drummers, I would have told them to quit being rockstars and fucking well roadie their own shit especially if they were getting a show fee. But these guys were from a band on the same level as ours, from the same record label, with their shit sorted better than us, and we were on their home turf. And I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of a “No” from the ancients again, so when WWR offered his half-hearted services I jumped at the chance of bringing him onboard. I didn’t care that he’d failed the biggest character test – reliability – the first time I’d met him. I could tell Matt and Dave that they had a roadie and performance fees, and know they’d be happy.
So the tour started in Brighton in the middle of a hurricane. I remember the bus and trailer were almost getting pushed uphill by the force of the wind. There was force-10 blasting going on inside the venue too. We smashed out our show. WWR arrived halfway through the gig and stood up the back of the crowd. He had been at a festival and was late. That was understandable, things are always a bit up in the air at the first show of tour. Hell, even bands are usually late to the first show of the tour, so I could forgive him that. He apologised and said he’d be on the ball from the next show. I said no problem. I advised him that he had to be side-stage or onstage ready to go each night, to plug leads in, pick microphones up, fetch water, and help in any way possible and he needed to be armed with gaffer tape, a knife, and a towel all of which we provided. I told him he also had to help with load-in, and packing up and loading out. I introduced him to our hopeless tour manager Nobby “I Owe Sam Bean 4000 pounds” Styles, then I sent him upstairs to get some food.
Luke was the first to ask. “Who’s your little ginger mate?”
“That” I said, “is our roadie WWR.”
I noticed the same expression creep across everyone’s face when I said that. Roadies are normally very grizzled matter-of-fact down-to-earth guys who are quick to introduce themselves and get on with making themselves useful. WWR just kind of crept around and didn’t introduce himself to anyone. You get what you pay for, I guess. He looked like we’d abducted a schoolkid and brought him on tour, and he didn’t talk. He had his dinner and found himself a berth on the Skyliner bus we were travelling on and went to sleep. All three bands on the tour were travelling on the bus and there wasn’t enough space for everyone, so a few of the guys from the support bands slept in the lounge up the back and downstairs.
*Note: I just had my usual call with Luke where I verify story details with him. All he had to offer was: “I do not remember this guy at all”
So the next day, we’re at the Nexus in Southampton for our gig. I had a blistering hangover from the night before. Load-in into the venue was happening. I went to help but the lovely dudes from Miksha and Nekkrosis stopped me: “Don’t worry about it, we’ve got this”. They loaded the entire backline up onto stage. I saw someone help Dave with his drums. I looked for WWR. He’d missed load-in. My girlfriend at the time and myself got the merch stand up. WWR sidled in. I had a go at him for missing load-in, and he made some excuse about not realising it was happening. I introduced him to Dave, and told Dave that WWR would help him roadie his kit. I explained to him that WWR was drumming for Corpsing in an attempt to lend this waif some credibility. I remember Dave looking directly at WWR and saying in a The-Fate-of-the-Kingdom-Is-In-Your-Hands voice “Corpsing, eh? Those are some big shoes to fill. Very big shoes”. I left them to it.
So we played our Nexus gig. It went fairly seamlessly until the end of the set just before the encore. My bass strap broke during the last song, and I had to finish the song standing on one leg Masai-style with the bass balanced on the other leg while I did vocals. I peeped out of the corner of my eyes. Neither WWR nor tour manager Nobby, who were both standing right next to me, noticed or did anything. At the end of the song, I kicked Nobby and screamed for gaffer tape. He went and grabbed some. I needed to cut old tape off my bass before reattaching the strap and I asked WWR if he had a knife. He said yes. I asked for it. He said it was on the bus. The bus of course was locked during gigs.
I was dumbstruck for a minute before saying “Well it’s not much good there, is it?”
I ended up just trying to tape the entire bass to myself to make it through the encore.
WWR disappeared for load-out, and again the opening bands did everything for us. One or two of them asked who that friend of mine was, the quiet ginger kid who stood around, ate our food, and slept on the bus? I explained he was our roadie, but I was starting to feel self-concious. Tours are lean machines and every single space on the bus is for people earning their place. My girlfriend was a small chick, and she was setting up our merch stand and looking after that every night and pulling her weight. The opening bands were roadying for us, and this was on top of looking after all their own shit, providing backline, and paying to be on tour. This grown boy WWR was loafing, had barely introduced himself to anyone on tour, and was simply not helping. He was becoming an embarrasment.
Next gig, Exeter at the Cavern Club. WWR went missing again for load-in and load-out. Didn’t help with the merch stand. I think I’d left him in charge of it, came back half an hour later and he’d wandered off. Just left it unmanned. I spotted him during the show right up the back where he could be of no possible use whatsoever. When I confronted him after the gig he said there wasn’t enough space on stage to wait. This was despite all the other bands having people just at the doorway at the side of stage, standing there ready to help. And we had seen sights on the road such as Skinless’ soundman onstage with a mixer held in his lap crouched between an amp and a wall while the rest of the venue tore itself apart, so we knew what was and wasn’t possible. Luke and I had already had a conversation between us earlier that night, angry that WWR was taking up bus space and offering nothing for it. Most of the guys on tour hadn’t spoken to him, and he definitely wasn’t making inroads with any promoters or club owners to further his own cause. We had taken dudes on tour who turned out to be legends who did us proud. This guy was not one of them. Even Matt was picking up on it, and he normally noticed nothing other than beer and his guitar for entire tour lengths.
“So who’s that little friend of yours, Sam?” snickered Matt. “Who’s your mate?”
“He’s not my fucking friend!” I snapped.
Later that night, I spoke to WWR and told him he was on his last chance. He had to load-in and load-out. He had to be on stage when we were playing. He had to help Dave set up and break down his drum kit. Tour was for working and getting shit done, not for standing around watching other people do things. WWR apologised, said he still didn’t have his head on straight, said he’d make more of an effort.
Although the tour went for another week and a half, the next show was in Derby. That was WWR’s last day on tour.
He missed load-in again. All set up happened without him. I was not happy. He stood in the middle of the floor during soundcheck and critiqued the mix. I reminded him we were already sorted for soundmen and he needed to be doing the job we were not-paying him for. I spoke to him again before the gig reminding him to be side-stage for the show. The dude just nodded and said OK, but I’m not sure if he understood. His eyes just had this vacant look you get from goldfish who have been fed a little too much fish-food. During our set we were in the middle of ‘Burnt‘ and my microphone fell off its stand halfway through my vocals. I looked sidestage. WWR was not there. Later during the same song there’s a techno break where I don’t have to play bass and I refastened the microphone. I looked out into the crowd. WWR was right in the middle of the crowd, talking to some blonde chick. That did it. When the song ended, I announced into the microphone:
“WWR, YOU ARE OFF THE TOUR. GET YOUR SHIT AND FUCK OFF”
Despite being addressed over a PA cranked to death-metal volumes, he didn’t seem to notice he was being spoken to. It goes without saying that he wasn’t around to help break down or load out after the show. He had disappeared. I was packing things up and fuming.
“Sam”, Dave said to me in a Give-Unto-Each-Villager-An-Oxen-And-Three-Chickens voice “…I think it’s time to let WWR go”.
“No fucking kidding” I snarled. I was pissed.
We loaded out, packed up, and grabbed showers. Then Luke and I hunted for WWR so we could make sure he knew he was sacked. One of the opening bands told us he was already in the bus. We marched on. I found him asleep on one of the top-front chairs which doubled as a bed. I was momentarily stuck for what to do.
“Oh. He’s asleep” I told Luke.
“Not for long”, Luke replied. He went back to his bunk, pulled out a five foot long red bag weighted down with bottles of Jack Daniels, dragged it back to us, and dropped it right on WWR’s head. He woke up.
“Sorry about that, didn’t see you there” said Luke, and left me to it.
I forget exactly what I said to WWR, but it was pretty rough. I told him he was an embarrassment, that I’d never seen anyone so slack in the industry, that I was ashamed to be known as the guy that brought him on tour. I took him through his transgressions one-by-one. It took me about five minutes of monologue and every time WWR tried to defend himself, I’d rip into him harder. He’d been given warnings, he’d been told what was expected of him. I was told by some eavesdroppers afterwards that I sounded scarier and more serious than when I was actually doing a gig. At the end of the talk I told him to get off the bus and make his own way back to London. Now. It was midnight and during winter so it was pretty cold out there. He packed his stuff and got off the bus. No trains were running at that time of night and he didn’t have any money. I didn’t care. I told the other bands there were now a few spare berths up the front then went to bed.
After I went to sleep, Nobby the tour-manager let WWR back on the bus to wait out the night in the downstairs lounge and then gave him twenty pounds for a train home. I ripped into Nobby when I found out. I felt that WWR was cheated of the valuable life experience of finding his way home from a distant location with no money. This may be why Nobby short-changed me around four-thousand pounds at the end of tour. When I chased him for the money he told me a story about his wife going to hospital. Then he took a job in Europe, stopped answering his phone, and just disappeared. I never heard from him again.
I bumped into WWR a year or so later in a pub in Bournemouth. He seemed happy to see me and wanted to tell me about his band who had just recorded in Poland. I didn’t want to speak to him. I’d had a conversation not long before with a known figure amongst London bands who had relayed the following to me:
“You know WWR, yeah? The kid you took on tour? He doesn’t like you guys. You kicked him off one of your tours, yeah? He’s been going around telling everyone all of Berzerker hated him because he was pulling girls every night and you weren’t. So you got jealous and kicked him off the tour.”
I realise that I talk about ‘offenses’ committed by this guy on tour as if they were grievous. If you haven’t been on tour then you probably don’t realise that it’s a very different environment culturally, and the work-ethic is a very big part of the environment. If you’re in the headlining band then you’ve got a bit of leeway to be slack. If you’re anyone else, you work and if you don’t work then you better have one charming goddamn personality or you will stick out like dog’s balls. Therefore, here’s a list of the minimum of what’s expected of you if you go on tour with a band. I’m aware that shit changes totally with professional tours, and that roadies have contracts and that responsibilities are strictly delineated between crew…so this is for everyone else below that ‘pro’ level:
- Load-in and load-out. At the very least, do that for your band. Most people do it for all bands on the tour
- Help set up the merchandise stand and help man it sometimes (if there’s a dedicated merch guy, ask if he/she needs help)
- Work out what the deal is for food (PD’s, or if it’s being served) and if possible relay it to the rest of the band. You should not have to be told this from the band itself. They are not there to help make things easier for you
- Work out what the schedule for the show is. You should not have to be told this by the band either
- If there’s nothing to do, find something to do. If there’s still nothing to do, ask someone if they need help. If there’s still nothing to do and you want to go away and do something, let people know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. You never just disappear
- When the gig happens you are on the side of stage, behind the stage, or in a pinch, minding the merch table. If a cymbal stand falls, you are there to catch it. If a lead falls out, you plug it back in.
- if you’re a legend on tour, it reflects well on you. But if you’re lazy, it reflects badly on your band
- Be resourceful and helpful. Start of tour and all the merch boxes don’t fit into the trailer? Go buy garbage bags, load the merch into them, and squeeze them into the trailer. Promoter orders general food when all the opening bands have finished and the headliners are about to go on? Go and put some of the food aside for the headliners and stash it somewhere where it won’t get nabbed. Be helpful and resourceful
Lastly, the best dude we over took on the road? To my mind it was Pete Theobalds, the ex-Akercocke bassist. He came on tour out of the blue for no money, just to help out Dave and Matt on our third UK tour. He worked nonstop above and beyond the call of duty, and was a joy to be around during an exceptionally stressful tour. One of these days I will write an entire article about wonderful people and Pete will probably be a big part of that. But today, I just wanted to hate on people and it was WWR’s turn to shine.